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How to Build Resilient Leadership: A Q&A with Sarah Deane, Founder of effectUX

When considering making any type of organizational changes, gathering data is certainly the first pertinent step. However, have you ever wondered how to effectively analyze and action the gained results? Sarah Deane, Founder of effectUX, does precisely that with resilient leadership.

After identifying a trend within the feedback gathering process – namely, that organizations cared about and spent considerable resources obtaining data but hit a wall when attempting to make sense of it – Deane now spends her time using technology and data to help people, teams, and organizations meet their goals.

Deane also shares her expertise to help underrepresented people, suppressed voices, and underestimated women achieve their full authentic selves and goals.

To better understand the factors that shape this complex matrix of measuring and leveraging data to effectively work towards and achieve goals, we asked Deane a series of questions about how best to empower leaders with the necessary tools for building and maintaining authentic and resilient leadership.

Sarah Deane: How do managers maintain resilience while building and modeling authentic leadership?

Being resilient and able to adapt in moments of adversity and stress includes being able to lean into emotions, acknowledge, and accept them. This involves processing the situation by taking pause to shift perspectives and bring forward the learning opportunities and solutions. Not only is it possible to do this while being transparent and authentic, it can help tremendously.

Resilience helps managers to not let stress and negativity filter through to their employees. For example, a leader that has processed their emotions about a challenging situation can share their story with their employees by highlighting the learnings and the actions to take forward. By accepting their emotions, they can connect better with their employees and have heightened empathy which can help them lead with compassion. When a leader cannot adapt, gets stuck in negative cycles of rumination, or feels they have to suppress their emotions, it can impact their behaviors, how they communicate, and the very energy they emanate.

If you had to build a manager’s toolkit, what would be the top three essential character traits or points to emphasize?

Our most recent system at effectUX, EMQ (Energy Management Quotient), helps foster positive, productive cultures. Based on our extensive research, and given the increasing focus on the link between well-being and engagement, as well as the need to nurture environments that promote healthy mental well-being, three essential capabilities include:

Resiliency. In our lives, experiencing challenging, difficult, and negative moments is inevitable. Resilience helps you bounce back from challenging situations and reduces stress levels. Resilient managers are able to adapt well in the face of the stressors they are experiencing in life, or at work. This can help prevent the stress from impacting their employees, and fosters a more productive and positive culture. Being able to identify and acknowledge their feelings, process the moment, and shift perspective allows them to move forward from a place of learning and growth, which models positive, healthy behaviors to their employees.

Self-care. The world is full of stimulus, never-ending to-do lists, and increasing responsibilities. Managers that place importance on and maintain boundaries that enable them to practice self-care have higher levels of mental, emotional, and physical wellness. They can better serve their employees as they themselves feel good and have the capacity to support others to practice healthy behaviors for a positive and productive workplace. This takes awareness of their body’s signals, signs, and emotions. It also takes self-compassion. When we feel good, we promote positivity, and have more to give.

Authenticity. Managers that behave in a way that demonstrates an organization’s cultural values, and ensure their actions align to their internal value system, experience more congruence. This impacts their communications and interactions with others, how they navigate negative moments, and how they operate. This congruence enables them to foster bonds of trust, remain open to the perspectives of others, and create an environment where people feel comfortable to share their thoughts and ideas. Congruence also allows them to feel good internally as they feel they are being true to themselves, which creates a more positive energy.

How does leadership begin the process of implementation of new policies, staff changes, or other sensitive workplace topics? What are some effective change management strategies for leaders during periods of change like this?

Change is inevitable. Companies go through turnover, organizational changes, mergers, and cutbacks in order to streamline, increase their bottom line, innovate, and grow. During this time, effective internal communications are critical so employees feel informed. Of course, in some situations, there is sensitive information which cannot be given for legal or business reasons.

However, this does not mean that no communications, or cryptic communications, should be given. These types of communications can catalyst office gossip and increase anxiety and stress. Getting ahead of these situations by communicating what is going on and what employees can expect goes a long way. When communicating upcoming organizational changes, rather than simply leaving it there, it helps to tell employees why, and what the next steps are.

Employees understand that various courses of actions, and hard decisions, have to be made for businesses to thrive. Knowing why decisions were made a certain way helps them better process it, rather than wondering what is going on or why. If as an organization a challenging moment arises from a fault of the company, then again, be transparent and apologize if needed. Saying, “we were wrong,” or “we messed up, but we have learned [x], and here is what we are going to do,” demonstrates accountability and models behaviors that better align with honest and transparent cultural values.

Can you share your thoughts and findings on what authentic leadership looks like in today’s workplace and how management can lead and communicate with authenticity? What is the impact of on authentic leadership on organizational culture?

Having authentic leaders has a large, positive impact to organizations. Driving value-congruence in our lives is a long journey that takes dedication, reflection, and awareness. It is about understanding the leadership style that is true to you.

Authentic leadership cultivates trust, which opens the door for shared perspectives, comradery, and greater levels of innovation. We found many traits that correspond to authentic leadership when creating an LQ (Leadership Quotient) test. Some of the most critical attributes include:

  • Building relationships based on honesty. When people know that you are always honest, no matter the type of message that needs to be delivered, this fosters trust. This trust helps better serve your customers and your employees.
  • Demonstrating behaviors congruent to your value system. Many people and organizations talk a lot about their values and what they stand for. Authentic leaders demonstrate it with their actions. When actions do not match the values, it leads to incongruence which can evoke negative emotions.
  • Being consistent. Behaving with consistency fosters trust. People know what they are getting with you, which affords a feeling of calm and stability. This is linked to demonstrating values, as if you consistently do this, the values will be felt in the organization, not just heard.
  • Remaining ethical and handling consequences. Authentic leaders have their own moral compass built on their value system. They make sure their actions align with this, enabling them to feel good, which promotes a contagious, positive energy throughout the organization. They also foster behaviors that align to the cultural values throughout the organization by holding people accountable when their behaviors do not demonstrate them.
  • Being aware and maintaining awareness. Authentic leaders spend time reflecting. They acknowledge their emotions and spend time understanding why they felt a certain way and what they can learn from it – using challenging moments as opportunities for growth. This helps manage stress levels and enables them to operate from a more productive and positive space. Authentic leaders act in accordance with their values. They can still deliver bad news, constructive feedback, or make a tough decision, but they handle the situation with compassion.

Successful employee performance is linked to effective leadership. What are some of the primary contributing factors to what you have described as a growing “leadership gap” in today’s workplace?

Today, many employees find themselves thrown into leadership or management roles without supporting growth and development opportunities.

While there are development programs, many suffer from not being able to tackle the development of the underlying mindset and behaviors that are critical today such as resiliency, nor bring application of the behaviors into people’s real life.

While leaders can be told that they need to communicate with transparency and actively listen to and motivate their employees, this is not something that people can just turn on.

To achieve the big outcomes such as a productive and positive workplace, there are several behaviors that need to be developed––and this takes time and space for accountability, awareness, reflection, and action.

Leadership development can also lack specificity. For a particular organization’s DNA, values, and business goals, different styles of leaders may be needed. Start by looking at what skills you need within your organization, and then take stock of where you are so that you can see the gaps.

Each person also has different capacity for change and growth, so programs need to take this into account.

For more tips on how to be an authentic and effective manager, sign up to watch our recorded Bee School webinar with employee engagement expert Jill Christensen.